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SEC Slant: Preview Edition IV

Kentucky
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If you want to know when a program has really begun to turn the corner, check out the NFL Draft. While there are exceptions, Florida State and Miami come to mind, you simply must yield a steady crop of NFL talent if you expect to compete year in/out in a major BCS conference. After steering UK through a blockbuster upset, two bowl wins and overall conference respectability, a handful of seniors were invited to turn pro and it’s likely we’ll see at least four of them on NFL rosters this season. That might sound meager to the insufferable cousin kissers due south, but for most of my life, outside of Couch, UK was as pertinent to the NFL Draft as the WNBA to life. The current Wildcats figure to send at least that many to the draft next year, perhaps the next, and so on/forth. You just get a good vibe from the program these days, from the brains on down to the brawn. The culture is shifting and prep All-Americans are taking note, even if the media is not (conspiracy! UK v. World! They took’r jobs!). Of course, all it takes is one year of bad play coupled with bad luck to ignite a firestorm of negativity (see Louisville), but we know who our Pappy is, and we know who our future Daddy is, and we should feel comfortable with our program in these experienced and crafty hands. The Cats will look to an experienced, SEC-caliber defense to sustain an offense that is yet-to-be-determined. With a decent, veteran O-Line and a stable of burners, you’d hope QB Mike Hartline can maintain order enough to keep the Cats lurking late in the game, with the potential to catch a few breaks and wayward throws and perhaps steal a game or two. Last season, Mississippi State had the 113th ranked offense and posted an 8-5 record behind a top 25 defense and sound coaching. I’m not saying Kentucky’s D will be top 25, but it should be relatively close and with Joker behind the curtain, I would be shocked if the offense was Charlie Weiss-bad.

Studs

Offense:
WR-Dicky Lyons, Jr.–all he knows is six…hopefully, he’ll introduce Hartline.

Defense:
DE-Jeremy Jarmon–was a handful off the left edge last season. No, literally, he was held on every play.
CB-Trevard Lindley–will once again be faced with shutting down future pro receivers most weeks and he’d better not forget to call his Grandmamma.

X-factor: Tie, Quarterback(s), Lones Sieber. Hartline? Cobb? Either way, you don’t really know what you’re getting, but it had better not be turnovers. Kentucky figures to be in some tight game this season, and FG’s will be huge. Lones Sieber set UK’s all-time scoring record last year, and was a hero in the LSU game…but let’s be honest, is anyone confident any time Sieber lines one up? A couple years of sidewinders, knuckleballs, and ill-timed blocks will do that to you and I’m not sure my heart can take it.

Shed-jule: Sunday is still up in the air, then it’s a string of cupcakes until heading to Tuscaloosa for what will hopefully not be a night game. Another winning season is possible, and will likely be determined by trips to Louisville and Starkville, and home games with Arkansas and Carolina.

Outlook: This could either be a surprise 7-8 win team, or a sub-.500 team, we just don’t know. A playmaking defense coupled by a fleet of homerun hitting running backs should at least keep Kentucky within striking distance most weeks. Generally, you hope to have, at the very least, experience either QB or WR…Kentucky has neither. But they do have speed, depth at most positions and the attention of the SEC.

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Florida
It never hurts to have an indestructible Cyborg under center, especially in a system tailor-made for indestructible Cyborgs. Tim Tebow “iz bock” (and only a freakin’ junior) to defend his Heisman and avenge a dissatisfying season of what-could-have-been’s. The Gators were perhaps the best 4 loss team in the history of college football a year ago, succumbing to a grueling schedule and pedestrian defense. The offseason has not been kind to the Gators with accumulating injuries and probationary periods taking a toll, but Florida looks primed for offensive juggernaut status and the defense can only improve, one would think.

Studs

Offense:
QB Tim Tebow–back from circumcising African youths and focused on Heisman #2…and other implausible feats of humanity.
WR Percy Harvin–a magician with the feet, and future fantasy football icon.

Defense:
LB Brandon Spikes–athleticism of a safety, strength of an end, foresight of William Howard Taft.

X-factor: front four. The secondary is going to need some time; that we know. Key to their development and effectiveness will be the pressure from the front four. The last thing you want is a comfy QB capable of picking this green secondary apart.

Shed-jule: Florida’s been fortunate lately with the fact perennial rivals Miami and Florida State have become glorified also-rans. They get LSU and Carolina in the Swamp this year, and I doubt anyone is upset over swapping Auburn out for Arkansas. Should be a stout cocktail party indeed.

Outlook: Tebow will continue to sit atop the nation in completion %, truck an occasional defensive tackle, but should see his workload decrease with a spruced up backfield. The receiving corp. is a throwback to the ol’ Spurrier days, with speed galore and sure handed studs. The offensive line is relatively young and banged up, but full of potential. With UGA stealing the spotlight, the Gators have become a trendy pick to win the league, and I can’t say I disagree. Sure, the D has some holes, but we must presume Tim Tebow unstoppable until proven otherwise. Let’s see how many teams can put up 35 points on them, because that’s what it could take to beat em.

Vanderbilt
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On the right day, watching your dog chase its tail can be a steady source of comedy. Such is the case on Saturdays, watching Vanderbilt chase a winning season. I mean, they’ve been right there the past couple seasons. So close to pay-dirt and yet so physically impossible, but close enough to keep trying, doggonnit. Sadly, just like a prized pit bull prefight, the tail has been clipped, with the sense of familiar mediocrity now the only thing left to chase. Not to say Vandy is dreadful by any means. Here I am perched on my pedestal when Kentucky and Vanderbilt look somewhat similar on paper; gaping void in offensive production, playmaking defense, little respect.

Studs

Offense:
WR George Smith–Earl Bennett he is not, but Smith was a steady #2 last year considering his cankles.

Defense:
CB DJ Moore–heads one of the best secondaries in the SEC, and the school’s Young Neo-Federalists Club.

X-Factor: Running Backs. The QB duo of Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson will likely rotate, and while both have experience and talented moments, neither will ever be a Jay Cutler capable of generating scores on their own. So the running has to be a strength, and the ‘Dores have several decent options to explore.

Shed-jule: A cakey non-con featuring a showdown with ACC counterpart Duke, but capped off with a trip to Wake Forest to end the season. The SEC slate looks the way it always does at Vandy: Kentucky.

Outlook: Vandy could probably contend for a bowl in the ACC or Big East. But in the SEC, the touchdowns will come few and far between. Still, not a shoe-in dubya by any means, but once again the next best thing in the league to a bye week.

Article written by John Dubya

The Twitter: @Johnawilk